As news spread of his death late last year, Nelson Mandela, the revered anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and human rights activist, was unequivocally heralded as a moral leader and a testament to the power of perseverance.
While taking inspiration from his extraordinary story, I found many examples of emotionally-intelligent entrepreneurial evangelism. Mandela's tumultuous rise from lawyer to revolutionary to detainee to President and global leader is a remarkable success story, one with many lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs:
Mandela spent 27 years locked up as a political prisoner, an experience that tested his resolve to the extreme. When on his release from prison he became the first black President of South Africa- the ultimate turn-around in fortune.
The characteristics of stubbornness and determination go a long way in the context of high growth business. An unwavering belief in your ventures, and an ability to fearlessly overcome obstacles, will also give you the mental advantage. If you enter into business with thick-skinned resolve, you may have a "soft skill" competitive edge over others.
In 1988, Mandela and the African National Congress were officially considered a terrorist organisation by the US government. At his funeral last month, Obama heralded the former South African President as a “giant of history” and the last great leader of the 20th century (quite a turn-a-round from the US government’s original stance). In fact, Mandela was not taken off the US terrorist list until 2008, 15 years after earning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
In the competitive entrepreneurial world, it is vital to make a good impression. Setting forward a professional and business-like demeanor is a necessary skill, but be mindful of excess. An overly-guarded, impenetrable wall of business-etiquette laden behavior can appear insincere. Try to relax every now and again and allow people to get to know the person as well as the businessman. We are all at our best when we are at ease. After all, business- like politics, is about building personal bonds and leveraging those to build teams and alliances to get things done.
When it was announced that he would become president, Mandela invited his imprisoner to his inauguration. He also invited white opposition parties into the government. He knew that in order to achieve full democracy, all parties must be represented, putting the good of the country in front of any personal slights.
Although it is necessary to gain the respect of work colleagues, the entrepreneur should never strive to be feared. You must have the ability to be stern in careful moderation. However, never be austere to the point of aloofness as doing so would be poor man-management. Maintaining an air of frivolity, humour, and open-mindedness creates an environment where your staff and your competition can approach you to brainstorm tactics and ideas. Great ideas, after all, don't always flow top down.
A healthy debate on a topic where your belief system is challenged will ultimately make you more self-analytical. Opposing views challenge us to find deeper meaning behind our own logic. Surrounding yourself with staff who challenge your business style and methodology will lead to personal growth, and will result in a more dynamic business.
When Mandela was released from prison in 1990, he was driven to Cape Town City Hall where he announced his ambition to win an equal vote for the black population. He then toured Africa spreading his message for a year after his release before he was elected President in the first fully-democratic election in 1994.
Success is about constantly striving for more then you already have: this is a philosophy at the core of any successful business. When starting a SME, it is important that the venture is constantly progressing, growing and evolving. Once a monumental goal is reached, one must instantly set another.
I'd like to leave you with one of my favourite Mandela quotes, one that encapsulates "leadership" in its truest form. This is one you can mull over and apply to your own life:
Dennis Waitley, the American best-selling author, once said 'failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end…' Failure is often misunderstood, a dirty word, only to be whispered in hushed tones. Some of those closest to me have yet to achieve their full potential because of their subconscious fear of the ‘F’ word. In certain cultures, failing is taboo and carries individual and familial shame, like a metaphorical scarlet letter burning on one’s forehead.
In high school, I was a sprinter. Metaphorically that is. I took on way too much. I wanted to make it big, and do it fast. My ambition and enthusiasm for education, sports and extracurricular activities exceeded my output levels, mainly because I was spread too thin. ‘The fruit of patience is very sweet,’ my father repeated reassuringly over breakfast as I gulped down my hot chocolate, but the Urdu proverb didn’t resonate at all with a young man eager to take on the world.
Winston Churchill once wisely said 'it's a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.' He was addressing the nation in a BBC broadcast, speculating on how Russia may or may not respond in the wake of one of the most uncertain times in recent history - World War II. Leaders are often judged by how they manage uncertainty: when the stakes are high, yet our control of the possible outcomes is limited. At times like this, working out probabilities and other forms of statistical analysis are of little use. Great leaders that have triumphed over the beast of uncertainty are often those that have relied on calculated intuition and instinct.